Canada: But We Had A Contract! Distinguishing Appearance From Reality In Employment Contracts

Last Updated: August 4 2014
Article by Melissa Gaul and André Giroux

On May 16, 2014, in Atwater Badminton and Squash Club Inc. v. Morgan ("Atwater"), the Québec Court of Appeal affirmed that the conduct of parties to an employment contract can supersede a series of fixed-term contracts, rendering the contractual relationship one of indeterminate term.

Background of Atwater  Case

Brendon Morgan, a highly qualified badminton instructor, had held the position of "Badminton Pro" at the Atwater Badminton and Squash Club for a period of 17 years.

Morgan had concluded a succession of fixed-term contracts with the club from 1993 to 2010. The contracts ranged in length from nine months to three years. However, from September 1998 to August 2002, Morgan was employed by the club without a written contract.

In 2002, the club was acquired by one of its long-term members. Morgan continued on as Badminton Pro, signing a series of one- to three-year contracts until he was informed on June 1, 2010 that his contract would not be renewed beyond August 31, 2010, the termination date set out in his latest contract.

Nature of Employment Relationship Considered by Superior Court of Québec

Morgan sought an indemnity equivalent to 21 months' prior notice of termination. He argued that the circumstances of his employment and the conduct of the parties constituted a contract of indeterminate term and that the Club was therefore required to provide him with "reasonable notice" of termination pursuant to article 2091 of the Civil Code of Québec.

The Club argued that Morgan's contract was clearly time-limited and as such they were not obligated to provide prior notice of termination.

The Superior Court noted that, generally, a contract with a fixed term should be respected by the courts. However, in this case, the Court was compelled to depart from the general approach given the nature of Morgan's employment relationship with the Club. In particular, the Court emphasized,

"the reality of Mr. Morgan's employment...and the reasonable expectations of the parties in the context of the employment relationship lead to the conclusion that he was under a contract for an indeterminate term. The successive renewals of...fixed term employment contracts over the years indeed transformed his employment contract into one with an indeterminate term."

Moreover, the contract renewal discussions tended to be brief and informal. In addition, they were not always held before the expiry of the latest contract. Morgan typically continued to come to work following the end date of his contract, and the continuation of Morgan's employment was "never an issue." The Court concluded that, "[g]iven the important role of a badminton professional in a badminton club, [the parties]...could reasonably assume that the relationship would continue beyond the formal term, except if [Morgan]...was explicitly and clearly informed otherwise."

The Superior Court therefore determined that Morgan was entitled to reasonable notice. It granted the equivalent of 21 months' notice given Morgan's age (47 years old), his length of employment at the Club (17 years), and the limited job opportunities available for his narrow skill set.

Québec Court of Appeal Upholds Superior Court Decision

The Club appealed the decision. It argued that the judge had erred in concluding that the employer-employee relationship had transformed over the years.

The Court disagreed and referred to various doctrinal sources that support the concept that an uninterrupted succession of fixed-term contracts can result in a contractual relationship of indeterminate term. In such cases, the Court held, the tribunal is justified in determining the intention of the parties by examining all of the relevant circumstances, including the conduct of the parties.

The Club then argued that the 21-month notice period was significantly exaggerated given the circumstances of the case. The Court dismissed this point and upheld the notice period granted by the Superior Court. It did, however, reduce the indemnity from $122,091.83 to $110,581.41 in order to take into account the salary gained by Morgan during the notice period.

Fixed-Term Contracts: What Employers Should Remember

In light of this decision, employers should be mindful of the manner in which they renew fixed-term contracts and in which they conduct themselves with regard to employees. Although the contract itself may provide for a termination date, the actual conduct of the parties may be taken into account in determining whether the employee is entitled to reasonable notice. The nature of the contract renewal discussions and whether or not the employee worked after the expiry of their contract are important factors that can influence the characterization of the employment relationship.

This decision also demonstrates the deference that will be shown by courts in deciding whether the notice period granted by the judge at first instance was indeed "reasonable." Courts will be reluctant to intervene, even if the award is generous.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.